I remember the day that President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to sit on the US Supreme Court. I jumped and screamed and cried from sheer joy. A Latina was going to sit on the Supreme Court, the apex of judicial power. Was this really happening?
It wasn’t just the fact that she is a Latina that moved me. It was the fact that she was going to have a voice in the court, whose rulings affect federal policy and the day-to-day lives of millions of Americans. And it was the fact that she was widely respected and an intellectual powerhouse. She was the best of the best (aka a total badass), and no one, not even the senators who later grilled her at her confirmation hearing, could deny that. In that moment, I distinctly remember thinking, “If I ever have a daughter, I’ll be able to tell her that she can be anything she wants to be, even a Supreme Court Justice.” I felt truly empowered.
The problem, of course, is that Sonia Sotomayor could only be nominated precisely because she was the best of the best. Not just amazing, or really damn good, or one of the best. As a Latina aspiring to one of the most powerful positions of power in this country, she had to overwhelmingly prove that she would make an excellent judge, despite having grown up in the Bronx. Instead of downplaying her difference, she positioned it as a strength. Famously, she said, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
That is no small or easy feat. Although women continue to outpace men in educational achievement, they are still badly underrepresented in leadership positions, both in business and in the public sector. For women of color, the challenge is heightened: they hold only 4 percent of top corporate jobs, 3 percent of board seats, and 5 percent of congressional seats.   When they rise to managerial positions, women of color are highly visible because of their race and gender, yet are expected to conceal their race- and gender-specific personality traits and experiences , while at the same time needing to provide more evidence of their competence in order to “prove themselves.”
That is why Sotomayor’s refusal to deny or downplay her identity was so groundbreaking: she refused to pretend that her perspective wouldn’t be different or that that difference wouldn’t add value.
The workplace is complex and difficult to navigate for all of us, as our summer internships and pre-Wharton work experiences showed us. It demands an especially delicate balance of professionalism, self-awareness, and assertiveness for women of color. Being the only one of “you” in the room means that you are often expected to speak on behalf of an entire community. But being a permanent ambassador for your gender and ethnicity is exhausting and an unfair burden.
When I moved from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico to Mukilteo, WA in middle school, I assumed that all of the US looked like the Seattle suburbs. Throughout middle school and high school, I was the only Latina in all of my honors and AP classes. I quickly learned how to relate to my peers, to code switch, and to own my identity in a way that wasn’t too threatening. When I became valedictorian of my high school, I knew that no one would question the fact that I was going to a selective college or dismiss it as due to being a Latina or a minority. I had earned it. It wasn’t until college, when I had friends who looked like me and who had families like mine, that I fully understood that I could be an unfiltered version of me.
My hope for Wharton, a place where we unabashedly celebrate difference, is that we can also challenge each other to better understand why diversity is truly important. Not just because it looks good on a brochure or matches the party line of academic institutions like ours, but because it improves decision-making and firm performance.  Most of us will go on to work for companies whose leadership will be primarily white and male. I want Wharton to produce future leaders who understand that having a wise Latina at the table is not just the right thing to do, but a strategic advantage for doing business.
 Fact Sheet: The Women’s Leadership Gap. Center for American Progress
 Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In
 Donnelly, James. Can You Name Five Black Women Business Leaders? Dartmouth
The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women Representation on Boards. Catalyst
- It Could Have Been Me by Lawrence Cole WG’15
- The Business Case For Diversity by Professor Michael Sinkinson
- Top 7 Reasons Not To Miss Diversity Week